Global Health Nexus, Winter 2002

Message from the Dean

Michael C. Alfano, DMD, PhD
New York University College of Dentistry

Ironically, it was a question that NYU Dentistry had asked many months earlier, when the College proposed theestablishment of a Center on Catastrophic Events at New York University. We reasoned that it would not be enough for society to trust its future to the plans of the FBI, the CIA, the military, and FEMA. As good as those agencies may be, they often operate in secret, are subject to the budgetary constraints of a given administration, do not mobilize large numbers of civilians or work in close cooperation with local governments, academic institutions, and other countries around the world to provide a coordinated network of information and initiatives. We argued further that these agencies might be willing to accept more risk, or “collateral damage,” than society-at-large. Accordingly, we called for the creation of an academically-driven global forum for public debate on issues of terrorism catastrophe preparedness and response.

The proposed Center would catalyze a debate on scores of relevant topics, including analysis of the political seeds of terrorism, genetic studies of biological weapons, evacuation plans that have previously received little public vetting, and development of a national system of public “first responders” — physicians, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, and EMTs. Ultimately, the faculty of the Center on Catastrophic Events would become experts for the media to call on in times of crisis and would help frame the national debate, thereby providing an outstanding service to society.

Following the events of September 11, NYU did submit a proposal to Congress to create a Center on Terrorism Preparedness and Response, and we are optimistic that funding will be awarded. Just days after the terrorist attack, in another ironic twist of fate, NYU Dentistry presented an abbreviated version of a Continuing Education course called “A Health Professional’s Response to the Terrorist Threat,” which had been scheduled months earlier. This course also grew out of our concern about the country’s lack of preparedness to respond to catastrophic events in general, and to terrorism in particular.

Then on November 3rd, in the belief that we should all know much more about how to respond to terrorism, NYU Dentistry presented a free, half-day continuing education course on terrorism, which drew a huge crowd of alumni to Saklad Auditorium. Our expectation is that they will go on to educate colleagues about what they too can do to protect their communities, their patients, and their families. We have also been talking to leaders in the New York State Dental Association, the New York State Academic Dental Centers, and across the country about a larger initiative to build a role for dentistry in mass disaster preparedness. You can read about our plans in the article entitled “Rising from the Ashes: Dentistry’s Role in National Security.”

In this issue of Global Health Nexus you’ll also find an article entitled “In Their Own Words,” which recounts the perspectives of members of the NYU Dentistry community who fanned out to sites throughout the city to volunteer their services immediately after the terrorist attacks. And NYU Dentistry alumnus Dr. Jeffrey Burkes, ’75, who serves as the Chief Dental Consultant to the Office of the New York City Medical Examiner, talks about his team’s involvement in forensic identification of victims in “Practicing for LifeSM.”

No nation in history has learned a harder lesson about the need for terrorism preparedness than ours. Thankfully, however, the sadness and gloom that all Americans are feeling has been offset somewhat by overwhelming evidence of our enormous capacity as a nation for strength, support, and compassion. Indeed, from the students and faculty at the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry came a shining example of the “great moral surge,” noted by NYU’s president-elect, John Sexton, that has been felt throughout the country since the events of September 11. It came in the form of a gorgeous oversize “mailgram.” Entitled “From Our UOP Family to Yours…We’re Thinking About You,” the mail-gram contains hundreds of signed messages of hope and prayers for the well being of all of us at NYU Dentistry. It is an incredible message of warmth and concern which we will always cherish.

At NYU Dentistry we are also heartened by several exciting new developments that are featured in this issue of Global Health Nexus, including an $8.3 million NIDCR award to establish the NYU Oral Cancer Disparities Research Center, the opening of a new state-of-the-art clinical simulation facility, the appointment of additional world-class scientists and educators to our faculty, and the promotion of outstanding current faculty members.

As you read this issue of Global Health Nexus, be assured that the NYU College of Dentistry, located in the world’s capital city, continues its forward momentum even as we mourn our losses, rebuild our city, and reaffirm its centrality as a source of great opportunity, diversity, and energy.